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French Alps: Failure to climb L'Etale but naming my own Alp

French Alps: Failure to climb L'Etale but naming my own Alp


Postby uk-scrambler » Wed Oct 06, 2021 9:50 pm

Date walked: 01/06/2018

Time taken: 4.5

Distance: 9 km

Ascent: 700m

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Ok, so I knew I would fail to climb L'Etale but I was intrigued to see how far I could get before the snow made me turn back. I had no gear (with a pair of microspikes or crampons I could have got much further), I just took the opportunity of clear weather at dawn to wander up towards the highest peak in the south Aravis chain (due west from the Mont Blanc massif).

I know there's a scrambling route to the top. It looks like it would be an airy but achievable ascent in August when the snow is all melted away. But this was late spring when there's still a fair bit of snow around. I wanted to get up as high as I could (without any gear). I love the alps at this time of year when the place is just starting to come out of hibernation.

IMG_3828.jpg
View of my route the evening before. I should not have veered so far off to the right. Mont Philip was named by me in honour of myself.


IMG_3830.jpg
Mont Charvin in the distance - the peak at the other end of the Aravis south (one I was able to climb the day before).


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La Tournette looking very pink


I set off from Comburce at 0600 with the sun just picking out the peaks of La Tournette and Mont Charvin to the south. I knew the way I wanted to take through the forest but the route can be surprisingly difficult to pick out - particularly in the half-light at dawn. Somehow I veered off way too far to the right but rather than re-trace my steps I opted to continue ascending and cut back towards La Creuse. I ended up making a horrible traverse across a very steep and greasy gully. I did not enjoy it in the slightest and considered heading back early for croissants. I was not even close to the snow line and the route was already more than I'd bargained for. But I found the path again and I was not far from La Creuse. Finally finding a landmark I could get my bearings by felt like an achievement.

IMG_3849.jpg
La Creuse - the point at which the fun begins.


La Creuse marks the top of the tree line and, at this time of year, the start of the snow. It also marks the end of the hike and the start of the scramble. Not far above that point I came to a frozen snowfield that was like an ice rink. The incline was only slight so I gingerly made my way across. I did not have microspikes or crampons so I did end up on my arse a couple of times but there was no danger. The way was criss-crossed by plenty of animal tracks but it seemed I must have been the first person to walk across for some time. In the depths of winter some brave folks do trek up here to ski back down the Foiroux (which must be incredibly dangerous!)

The scrambling gets steeper and steeper up a scree slope. Eventually I found a snow field blocking the way again - this time on what felt like a near vertical incline. Stupidly, seeing the cables on the other side, I thought I would attempt the traverse. I don't know what I was thinking! As soon as I set foot on the compacted snow I realised how moronic my decision making was - I was about to find a very quick one-way route back down to La Creuse. I carefully back-tracked onto the scree and stopped to eat a croissant. Lesson learned: know your limits! Respect the mountain!

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The route goes over that way. There are cables to assist with the scrambling - but still mostly buried under the snow.


IMG_3853.jpg
Time for a bite to eat... and to look for a new route.


On the other side of the combe I spotted a better option - some relatively straightforward snow-free scrambling to the col at the top of the incline. Nearing the top of the steep section I realised I was not alone. There was a chamois watching me from the ridge at the top.

IMG_3852.jpg
A much better option.


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Someone is watching me. Middle of the ridge.


We watched each other for a while - each waiting to see what the other would do. In the end the chamois (who I christened 'Philip') bolted upwards towards the top of the unnamed peak that I would end up climbing (and would christen 'Philip').

In all the excitement I suddenly realised I could see L'Etale summit. This was the first time I'd seen it with my own eyes. L'Etale is a complex mountain with lots of false summits hiding the true summit which is tucked away at the back. It has a weird metal tripod on the top that looks like some sort of alien craft. I was surprised that I could see it quite clearly even from this distance (though it doesn't come out well in my photo!).

IMG_3855.jpg
L'Etale summit in the distance. First time I'd seen it.


The views at col du Passet were incredible. I was especially impressed with the vast expanse of the Foiroux - the steep combe that leads up towards the summit. It was immediately obvious that to attempt to cross it without any gear would be suicidal so I didn't give it a thought. But it was a great feeling to be up that high regardless. The peaks and ridges that rise up out of the snow are quite fearsome. Away to the right was a great view across the rest of the Aravis south chain to Mont Charvin.

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Big imposing wall of mountain straight ahead.


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The route across the Foiroux towards the summit. Not for today. Note the evidence of a recent avalanche. It would ruin your day to get caught in one of them.


I wasn't going to risk life and limb on the Foiroux but I wasn't ready to end the climb just yet, so I decided to follow the way that Philip the Chamois had gone and scramble to the top of the unnamed peak just to the side of col du Passet.

IMG_3857.jpg
Upwards.


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That's as high as I can get today.


I stayed on the peak of the newly named Mont Philip and enjoyed the views. Absolutely stunning. A great feeling to be so alone up there. Eventually I started the scramble back down the way I'd come. Further down, on the scree slope I came across Philip the Chamois again, closer this time, I tried to get a photo but he (probably she, actually) didn't want to be photographed so we said our goodbyes. I slogged it back down past La Creuse and all the rest of it and off back to the ranch for croissants and coffee.

IMG_3860.jpg
View of the Aravis south chain from Mont Philip.


I was back to try the same route at the same time of year in 2019 but an avalanche earlier in the season had deposited a lot of debris at lower level and I wasn't able to get much past La Creuse. Half the fun is the challenge - seeing how the place is different from year to year. Some years you can get quite high. Others you can't. I know that if I came back in August with the snow all gone it would be relatively straightforward to get to the summit and the unimpeded view over to Mont Blanc - but that would be to demystify the place somehow. I like it that the mountain and Philip the Chamois are the boss of that place.

IMG_4607 (1).jpg
2019. More snow this year. I could not get up to the col.


IMG_4616.jpg
2019 - Earlier avalanche left the scrambling route looking like a WWI battlefield.


One day I might get to the top. But I might not, we'll see. 2020 and 2021 were not possible due to covid. Hoping to be back in 2022 for another go.
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Re: French Alps: Failure to climb L'Etale but naming my own

Postby Pointless Parasite » Fri Oct 08, 2021 7:28 pm

A bit early in the season I guess. Any time in August and September you wouldn't have any troubles.

There a few good via ferratas in that region, inlcuding one on Mt. Charvin (more of a protected scramble) and one at Thônes which is notoriously difficult. La Tournette is also highly recommended (there's a WH report by me somewhere). It's a great region, but as a public transport user, it's much more difficult for me to get around than Switzerland.
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Re: French Alps: Failure to climb L'Etale but naming my own

Postby uk-scrambler » Sat Oct 09, 2021 2:10 pm

Pointless Parasite wrote:A bit early in the season I guess. Any time in August and September you wouldn't have any troubles.

There a few good via ferratas in that region, inlcuding one on Mt. Charvin (more of a protected scramble) and one at Thônes which is notoriously difficult. La Tournette is also highly recommended (there's a WH report by me somewhere). It's a great region, but as a public transport user, it's much more difficult for me to get around than Switzerland.


I love the region. I've not had a go at any of the via ferratas before - but I've seen the one at Mt. Charvin (I've taken a different route to the summit in the past). I think I know the one you must mean at Thônes. I recall one sunny afternoon lazing around in the open air swimming pool in Thônes watching the progress of a group of climbers on the cliffside high above. It looks very heavy going.

I'll look up your La Tournette report. It's a peak that's been on my list for a long time.
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